CINCINNATI -- D.A.R.E. programs continue to run strong in some Butler and Warren county schools, four years after many departments around Cincinnati called it quits.
D.A.R.E. (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) was created in 1983 as a prevention program to keep kids off drugs and out of gangs. The program is taught by police officers in schools over several weeks, with topics ranging from drugs to stress to peer pressure.
The program received criticism after a U.S. Government Accountability Office report in 2003 indicated there was no significant difference in illicit drug use between students who participated in D.A.R.E and those who did not. While the program continued at the time, many police departments around the Tri-state, including Cincinnati and Hamilton, cut the program in 2012 due to budget cuts from the state.
“A lot of the programs were done away with because of manpower and economics at the time,” said Officer Gregg Lamb of the Fairfield Police Department.
The cost to run the program includes the student workbooks and the pay rate of the officer delivering the program.
The cost of the workbooks is covered by a grant from the Ohio Attorney General’s Office, with the stipulation that officers must include a state-mandated unit on over-the-counter and prescription drugs.
The police officers receive their normal pay rate while on duty in the schools. While they are paid by their respective departments, the attorney general often reimburses a small portion of their salaries through grants.
Since the cuts in 2012, Fairfield City Schools is one of a few Greater Cincinnati districts still running the program. Others include Springboro, Mason, Kings and Wayne local school districts.
“The program, in my personal opinion, has been very successful,” Lamb said.
D.A.R.E. officers typically make introductory visits to lower-level elementary students to talk about safety, but the core program is implemented in fifth or sixth grade, depending on the district.
Officers are currently teaching the Keeping it Real curriculum, which is the third update introduced by D.A.R.E. America since the program’s inception.
“ 'Keeping it Real,’ which is what we’re doing now, is by far the best curriculum so far,” said Sgt. Don Wilson of the Springboro Police Department. “It’s the first curriculum that we have that is actually research-based.”
The program is delivered over 10 to 12 weeks and incorporates videos, workbooks, PowerPoint presentations and class discussions.
Although the curriculum still delves into the topics of drugs and substance abuse, the material has shifted to focus on the factors that lead to drug use rather than the effects of using drugs.
“Scare tactics and just throwing out what drugs do to you, that was part of the flaw in earlier parts of D.A.R.E.,” Wilson said.
He and other D.A.R.E. officers now focus more on such subjects as conflict resolution, coping mechanisms for stress, fitting in with peer groups and bullying.
“We want the kids to make good choices and know that, it’s OK, you can tell your friends 'no' and they’ll still be friends,” said Warren County Sheriff’s Deputy Kelly McKay, who delivers the program at Waynesville Elementary School.
The current curriculum also emphasizes police officers’ roles as facilitators for discussion rather than lecturers.
“They (students) tend to learn more, and they learn from each other as they’re kind of figuring things out,” Wilson said.
Despite the lack of measurable results, many police officers and school officials maintain that the program does have an impact on students.
Proponents credit the program for starting conversations at home that might not happen otherwise. In Mason, the program emphasizes the role parents play in drug abuse prevention by inviting students’ families to attend D.A.R.E. graduation assemblies.
“I think every year those D.A.R.E. graduations are really meaningful for families,” said Tracey Carson, public information officer for Mason City Schools.
“We see it as a piece of a very larger puzzle as far as education around substance abuse or drug use,” said Waynesville Elementary School Principal Tammy Burchfield.
For many officers, the greatest impact can be seen in the relationships built with kids, some of whom later credit their D.A.R.E. officer with influencing their decisions.
“You build that relationship, and you get that trust, and they do respond very well to it,” McKay said.